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Column: Does Caleb Williams have concerns about the Chicago Bears that would alter his future football plans?

Now seems like the appropriate time to repeat the obligatory warnings. Fasten your seatbelts tightly and take a deep breath. Only this may be a ride that needs more than the standard seatbelt. It probably requires the sturdiest lap bar in the industry plus a reliably strong shoulder harness and warnings for anyone who suffers from high blood pressure, heart palpitations or severe anxiety.

The offseason roller coaster is about to get wild in Chicago. Or maybe we should say wilder. And as it relates to the Bears’ quarterback conundrum, prepare for some of the most intense G-forces, startling stomach drops and head-pounding helixes you’ve ever experienced.

Away we go.

We’re open to naming this ride if you want. “The QB Quandary” perhaps? “Caleb’s Chaos Coaster”? “The Dealbreaker”?

Whatever the case, the twists, turns and constant acceleration aren’t going to let up anytime soon, testing the patience of even the most composed individuals.

At the center is USC star Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, the consensus top quarterback in this year’s draft class and a prospect blessed with special quarterbacking gifts that NFL talent evaluators have admired for years.

The Bears, equipped with the No. 1 overall pick, and eager to upgrade at the most important position in the sport, currently hold the right of first refusal on Williams’ services and, no doubt, are impressed with his arm talent, elite instincts and playmaking artistry.

If the Bears conclude Williams’ talent is can’t-miss and that his wiring meets Halas Hall standards — as many inside league circles presume they might — this could become an easy and clean move. Bears general manager Ryan Poles can draft Williams at No. 1 on the last Thursday of April, lock in his rookie contract — four years with a fifth-year option — and charge enthusiastically into a new era. There will be countless reasons to immediately believe Williams can become the key to unlocking a new dimension of Bears quarterback play, which could create a paved road to sustained success for the entire team.

But for those who haven’t already gotten the gist, the track from here to there seems far from linear. And this doesn’t figure to be a smooth, calming ride in the coming weeks.

We’ve already entered a period where rampant speculation, informed reporting and reckless conjecture have been jostling with each other, creating all those disorienting spins and jarring jolts of redirection. Hence the lap bars, the shoulder harnesses and the repetitive warnings about the potential perils of these next 10 weeks.

Open to interpretation

Some of the current chatter surrounding Williams’ future revolves around whether he is actually excited about the possibility of becoming a Bear or if, given the power, he might push to begin his NFL journey with another franchise.

That plotline took on new life last week after Fox Sports 1 talk show host Colin Cowherd referred to the Bears organization as “professional quicksand” for quarterbacks and insinuated that “Caleb and his group do not want to go Chicago.”

Uh oh, right?

Yet a day after that initial take, Cowherd asserted he had been presented with new information from Williams’ camp, stressing they didn’t “want to be painted as anti-Bear” while also expressing their desire for the young quarterback to wind up in a place where the passion and pressure to succeed were high.

Cowherd said Williams’ camp saw “a path to succeed in Chicago” but also that Williams “deep down privately has real concerns about the Bears.”

Dizzy yet?

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Later, during interviews on WMVP-AM 1000 and WSCR 670-AM in Chicago, Cowherd acknowledged the lines he helped blur between relaying reliable sourced intel and contributing to the conversation with his opinion-based suppositions. He also re-emphasized some of the obvious concerns that surround the Bears organization, apprehensions Williams and his inner circle are discussing.

“There’s no momentum in the organization,” Cowherd said. “And everybody is unproven. The GM is unproven. Coach is unproven. President is unproven. … I would argue there are a lot more questions with the Bears than answers.”

Maybe so. But could those questions register as significant enough to convince Williams to refuse to play for the Bears? Cowherd didn’t think so. “Caleb doesn’t want to be a villain,” he said. “He knows there’s no perfect landing spot.”

Instantly, three dozen interpretations of all those sentiments sprouted and spread. As one faction yelled, “Nothing to see here!” another shouted, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire!”

It was all a timely reminder of just how noisy and confusing the Williams conversation will likely remain over the next two-and-a-half months, particularly with so little being said by the quarterback himself or by front-office executives around the NFL — most importantly Poles — who are currently diving deep into the evaluation process.

It’s undeniable that the Bears’ track record of developing highly drafted quarterbacks has been abysmal. But how much will that failure-filled past matter to Williams as he considers his football future?

It’s also worth noting that new Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron runs a system Williams would be comfortable in and has been an instructor at QB Collective, a developmental program where Williams has trained.

But what weight does that link carry and will it play any role in assuaging any concerns Williams might have about the Bears?

‘Hard to say’

Also, what about Williams’ roots in Washington, D.C., where he was born and attended Gonzaga College High School?

And what about the Washington Commanders hiring Kliff Kingsbury as their new offensive coordinator after Kingsbury spent last season alongside Williams as a senior offensive analyst at USC? And what about Williams taking to Instagram to commemorate that move with his well wishes above a photo of Kingsbury that read “My dawg congrats”?

Doesn’t that provide dots to connect about the possible direction the Commanders may want to go?

Perhaps there may soon be a push in Washington to target Williams, for new Commanders general manager Adam Peters to contact Poles, to discuss a possible trade package that would push the Commanders up one spot on the draft board and potentially bring Williams back home. (For whatever it’s worth, when the Bears traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 in the 2017 draft, they sent the San Francisco 49ers a third-round pick, a fourth-round selection and a future third-rounder as well.)

Or maybe Peters will continue to prioritize the value of his draft capital to continue building a roster that needs significant talent replenishment. Maybe he will be content sticking with the No. 2 pick in the draft. In that scenario, maybe Kingsbury’s hiring and expertise in the air-raid offense would instead make him an ideal partner and mentor for North Carolina’s Drake Maye, who is widely considered the No. 2 QB prospect in this year’s draft.

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Maybe. Possibly. Perhaps.

That’s all part of the roller coaster at a stage where the train is entering the “Hard to say” tunnel, a passageway that will be dark and noisy for this next long stretch of pre-draft chaos.

Don’t forget, even the teams themselves don’t yet have clarity on their plans. The Commanders, for example, just introduced Dan Quinn as their new coach Monday. You’d bet Quinn might want to put in some time and research and collaborate with his new coaching staff and new bosses before cementing the team’s biggest decisions.

Likewise, with Poles and coach Matt Eberflus leading the way, the Bears will want to further their vetting process with this year’s quarterback class, setting up in-person meetings and formal interviews and on-field workouts and any number of other interactions that will enhance their assessment.

The Bears’ opportunity to get to know Williams on a more intimate level — and vice versa — hasn’t even begun yet. So what’s next? Hard to say.

Little by little

For those into saving meaningful dates, here are a few to circle, in reverse chronological order.

  • April 25: The NFL draft begins. Round 1. Live from Detroit. The Bears are currently scheduled to choose two elite prospects in the first 90 minutes of the event — including, potentially, a new franchise quarterback at No. 1 overall. That’s 79 days from now.

  • March 13: The NFL’s new league year begins, at 3 p.m. Central time, when teams can officially sign unrestricted free agents and, in certain circumstances, finalize trades, some of which may be agreed upon far in advance. That’s 36 days away.

  • March 1-2: The top quarterbacks in this year’s draft class will take center stage at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, first holding Q&A sessions with reporters and then the next day, if so desired, participating in the on-field workout portion of the program. That curtain lifts in 24 days.

  • Feb. 27: Poles is expected to next speak with reporters, in Indianapolis at the combine, to offer at least some insight into the Bears’ philosophical approach to assessing their quarterback situation and all the possible solutions. That’s only three weeks away.

So maybe, as vertiginous as this ride may frequently feel, we really are moving closer to answers and meaningful action.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride for what it is. Sometimes exhilarating. Sometimes disorienting. Always fast and frenzied. Just make sure those lap bars and shoulder harnesses are snug and secure.